a Look Back at Policing

Henry Gates
Henry Gates
Henry Gates
On July 16, 2009, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home by local police officer Sgt. James Crowley, who was responding to a 9-1-1 caller's report of men breaking and entering the residence. The arrest initiated a series of events that unfolded under the spotlight of the international news media. | Henry Gates, Police, Arrest, James Crowley, Harvard, Civil Rights, 911, Handcuffs,

I wrote this piece about police performance in 2009

Reader's Note: I wrote this column back in July of 2009 after the Henry Gates controversy. Gates, a black Harvard scholar, was detained by police in Cambridge, Mass. after attempting to gain entry into his own house after he had locked himself out. Gates was taken down to Police Headquarters and later released because there were no grounds for the arrest. The arresting officer claimed Gates was "disorderly" while Gates maintained he was simply voicing frustration at being (detained, arrested ?) for entering his own house.

President Obama at the time criticized the policeman for making a "stupid" arrest. This brought a firestorm of anger from police officers across the country who accused him of disloyalty to law enforcement.Obama apologized. The arresting officer later went on a hero's triumphal tour visiting and being feted at police departments across the country.

After I did this column (below) I received similar angry complaints from police officials.

One used his length of tenure as a defense saying in the comment box to me, "I have been in law enforcement for 32 years and I can tell you the arrest was carried out in an appropriate manner," this despite the fact he did his police work in a different city, was not a witness to the Gates arrest and did not have access to the paperwork testimony of those involved.

My intent was not to criticize in the column (below) those who protect us with their lives. My intent was to call attention to the uneasy feeling that any criticism of the police is viewed by many police today as an act of anti-American treachery. In fact the police are a public, tax-funded agency (the sure way to get a policeman furious at you is to remind him that your taxes pay his salary even though the statement is true).

In other words, it seems some times that police (some of them) want to be something pretty close to being held unaccountable.You be the judge.

Massachusetts Police Officer James Crowley, the officer who arrested Henry Louis Gates, a black scholar, for disorderly conduct after Gates was found attempting to enter his own home after he had been locked out, arrived in California and was cheered by law enforcement officials.

He is apparently on a national triumphal tour of some kind.

The case, which sparked charges of racism, became national when President Obama, who knows Gates, called Crowley’s actions “stupid.” Outraged police officers across the country demanded contrition from Obama, who recanted.

Crowley now seems to be enjoying this notoriety.

Let’s look at this logically. Why is Crowley a hero? What is his achievement that he deserves this VIP treatment?

Here’s the achievement. Crowley found a black scholar trying to enter his own home. When it was established it was Gates’ home, according to the officer, Gates exhibited disrespect toward the officer. The officer, Crowley, took Gates into custody charging him with “disorderly conduct,” and took him down to the police station where Gates was released four hours later because the charge was groundless.

In other words, Crowley arrested Gates on charges that Crowley’s own superiors determined were baseless, false.

So naturally, Crowley is a hero.

He got Obama to apologize. Obama still thinks the action was stupid. So do I.

An intelligent response from Crowley would go something like this, “Look Mister Gates, we came down here to protect your property because we heard a burglar was breaking in. Now, I’m sorry you’re mad, and sorry for the inconvenience, but we’re leaving.”

And just leave. That’s the end of it.

If it was really disorderly conduct, why was it thrown out?

It wasn’t really disorderly conduct, because it was dismissed.

I think Crowley was flexing his badge a little too much, and just wanted to get some revenge on Gates for the alleged “disrespect” by the needless exercise of hauling him down to the police station. Once, again, Crowley’s own superiors didn’t back his charge of “disorderly conduct.”

Maybe the charge against Gates should have been, “Hurt Feelings.”

Even black police officers back Crowley. Why? Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Police officers some of them evidently want to believe in the myth they are so highly trained, it’s impossible for one of them to use bad judgment.

2. Many police are conservatives who have little love for Obama.

3. A charge of racism, or racial profiling as it is called, is serious. Once again, officers consider an accusation against one of them as an accusation against all of them.

4. Police have to risk their lives protecting citizens. This produces a curious psychological quirk I call “You Owe Me” Syndrome. The policeman, feeling that he risks life and limb for the citizen, comes to view the citizen as an ungrateful cowardly ingrate who is not properly appreciative of this sacrifice. This leads to a finely-honed sensitivity where almost anything can be construed as disrespect. Even looking cross-eyed at someone. In other words, you should salute me, not insult me. You’re under arrest.

5. It is not a crime to express displeasure at a police officer. The police evidently think it is. This is perhaps an expansion of unwritten power.

6. The system, law enforcement, like government, needs to function with the advantage given to its officers. This isn’t necessarily bad. People risking their lives should be defended. But like in (5) above, it’s easy to cross a line to the point that defending becomes lock-step cover-up.

7. There are many fine and great officers, but if the truth be known, just like in any organization, some aren’t very intelligent. Some are maladjusted. Some are violent.

8. No system, not even the Pentagon, is perfect.

9. The white police when they were boys watched too many John Wayne movies.

10. Perhaps I will be arrested for writing this article. Aaron will bail me out.

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Updated Jul 11, 2018 1:00 AM UTC | More details


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